March 2014

Post image for The Troubling Basis for EPA’s Rosy Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Clean Air Act

Perhaps you’ve heard or seen the eye-popping statistics, trumpeted by EPA and its supporters, regarding the incredible benefits supposedly wrought by the Clean Air Act.

In a recent study, for example, EPA claimed that in 2020 alone, the Clean Air Act would be responsible for “approximately $2 trillion” in benefits. Given that the costs of the Clean Air Act are estimated to be $65 billion in 2020, this represents a benefits-to-cost ratio of more than 30, which, of course, renders EPA’s work in a very favorable light. And it’s not just EPA trumpeting these numbers. Last week, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer cited data from the aforementioned report, in order to rebut Republican criticisms of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Indeed, environmental special interests always are quick to cite these benefits when they defend the agency they’ve captured.

Eighty-five percent ($1.7 trillion) of the $2 trillion number is derivative of two variables: (1) how many deaths EPA purports to prevent and (2) the supposed value of these prevented deaths. EPA forecasts that its regulations will prevent almost 240,000 deaths in 2020; the agency estimates that the value of a statistical life is about $7.4 million. Multiply those two data points, then adjust for inflation, and voila!—you’re at $2 trillion in “benefits” in 2020.

In this post, I will briefly explain that this result is a total sham, because the underlying numbers are unreliable to the point of being meaningless.

Start with EPA’s calculation of “prevented deaths”—i.e., the mortality benefits of environmental regulations. In fact, this estimate is based almost entirely on controversial, “secret” science. To be precise, in establishing a relationship between decreased air pollution and decreased mortality, EPA relies on decades-old data from the two reports, the Harvard Six Cities Study and the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II. So when EPA claims that it will prevent 240,000 deaths in 2020, this number is an extrapolation from these two key studies.

And yet, despite the evident importance of these two studies, EPA refuses to make publicly available the underlying data. For two years, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Lamar Smith has pressed the Agency to produce this “secret science.” And for two years, his requests have been rebuffed by the EPA. Remember, these studies were taxpayer funded. They serve, moreover, as the justification for public policy. And yet, EPA refuses to turn over the data to a Member of Congress. To read about Chairman Smith’s diligent efforts to unlock this secret science, see here, here, and here. Senate Environment & Public Works Ranking Member David Vitter also is investigating the matter. Suffice it to say for this post, EPA’s estimates of mortality avoided due to the Clean Air Act cannot be trusted.

What about the other variable, the value of a statistical life? How does the agency calculate this figure? The EPA does not place a dollar value on individual lives. Rather, when conducting a benefit-cost analysis of new environmental policies, the Agency uses estimates of how much people are willing to pay for small reductions in their risks of dying from adverse health conditions that may be caused by environmental pollution.

Below is the example provided by EPA:

“Suppose each person in a sample of 100,000 people were asked how much he or she would be willing to pay for a reduction in their individual risk of dying of 1 in 100,000, or 0.001%, over the next year. Since this reduction in risk would mean that we would expect one fewer death among the sample of 100,000 people over the next year on average, this is sometimes described as “one statistical life saved.” Now suppose that the average response to this hypothetical question was $100. Then the total dollar amount that the group would be willing to pay to save one statistical life in a year would be $100 per person × 100,000 people, or $10 million. This is what is meant by the “value of a statistical life.”

Simply put, this metric makes no sense. The “value” of each “prevented death” is ascertained by asking people how much hypothetical money they’d be willing to spend in order to avoid a fraction of one percent chance of death. How could this possibly have meaning? Absolutely nothing is concrete. The question doesn’t actually pertain to your money, after all. More importantly, there’s zero referent for estimating the value of reducing your mortality risk by a fraction of one percent. The “benefit” is a total abstraction.

[click to continue…]

Post image for Japan Turns to Coal, Demonstrates Inadequacy of Renewable Energy

Nearly three years ago, in the immediate wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, the Washington Post published a dispatch from its Tokyo correspondent Chico Harlan, reporting that Japan had turned to renewables:

A new energy policy, which Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan began to outline this week, would emphasize solar and wind power and require pricey investment and yet-to-be-determined innovation…Although the prime minister has set new [and ultra-aggressive renewable] energy targets, he has yet to give specifics of how those goals will be reached…”

I made light of the report, in particular the part about how the Prime Minister’s plan was based on an “as-yet-to-be-determined” innovation, which struck me as wishful thinking. At the time—May 29th, 2011, to be exact—I predicted that reality would intervene, and Japan would turn to coal to replace nuclear, because intermittent renewable energy simply cannot function as a base load power source. To be precise, I wrote,

When Japan starts building large plants, my bet is that they’ll be coal powered.

Nearly three years later, it’s come to pass. Below is the lede to an article from Friday morning’s Wall Street Journal

Japan is turning into a rare bright spot in the world coal market, stepping up coal-fired power generation to replace nuclear plants that went offline after the 2011 Fukushima accident.

Japan’s embrace of “dirty” coal, climate change notwithstanding, is a bow to reality. As I explained three years ago, renewables simply aren’t up to the challenge:

Electricity generation, generally speaking, falls into two categories: Base-load generation and peak generation. Basically, there’s a relatively stable “base”-line demand for electricity throughout the day, which is supplied by “base load” generation. From 4-6PM, when most people come home from work and turn on their air conditioners, televisions, and laptops, there is a spike, or “peak,” in electricity demand. Base load generation is met at the lowest cost by large power plants running at a high efficiency, like coal, nuclear, and hydro. Peak power is best supplied by natural gas power plants that can be ramped up and down most quickly and efficiently, although hydro is good for this, too, because the energy is stored [mechanically] and can be dispatched fast. Renewable energy, like wind and solar, is unreliable, so it’s good for nothing.

I was being cheeky when I said green energy is “good for nothing”; in fact, wind and solar power do produce energy, however inefficiently, and this energy does have value. Nonetheless, it’s true that wind and solar have next-to-no applicability as a base load source, due to the simple fact that a base load source MUST be highly reliable, which, again, is inherently untrue of wind and solar. To be sure, it’s possible we’ll have a breakthrough in battery technology. But we’re nowhere near that now, evidently, and until energy storage is commercialized, it remains true that renewable energy can’t replace conventional energy sources for base load. Because of this reality, Japan turned to coal.

Last Saturday, from 8:30-9:30 PM, I and thousands others joined my colleagues at the Competitive Enterprise Institute to celebrate Human Achievement Hour. The holiday is both a tribute to the human innovations that have allowed people around the globe to live better, fuller lives, and also a defense the basic human right to use energy to improve the quality of life of all people. To be precise, Human Achievement Hour is a cheerful response to the depressing alarmism of modern environmentalism. The gloomy greens propagate a message that virtually all economic development is evil, because it necessarily despoils pristine ecology. By celebrating Human Achievement Hour, we give ascendancy to mankind, and readily recognize that the surest path to both human and environmental well-being is wealth creation, fossil-fuel production, transportation, refinement, and consumption included.

In fact, Human Achievement Hour isn’t the only holiday observed on Saturday night, from 8:30 to 9:30 PM. Contemporaneously, the World Wide Fund for Nature sponsors Earth Hour whereby participants symbolically renounce the environmental impacts of modern technology by turning off their lights.

While Earth Hour supporters may suggest rolling brown-outs in India are desirable, we respectfully disagree. Reliable electricity is one human achievement people can celebrate. To this end, we advocated that people take part in Human Achievement Hour by keeping their lights on for one hour.

To learn more about Human Achievement Hour, see here or here. Below, I spoke about the holiday with Ezra Levant of Sun News.

Cooler Heads Digest 28 March 2014

Post image for WTO Rules against China’s Export Restrictions: Implications for U.S. NatGas Export Debate

The World Trade Organization (WTO) confirmed Wednesday that China’s policies restricting exports of rare-earth minerals violate global trade rules. According to the Wall Street Journal:

The WTO said China’s export duties on rare-earth metals, molybdenum and tungsten are inconsistent with its obligations in the organization. It also ruled against Beijing’s export quotas on the materials and its move to restrict their trade.

China has said the restrictions are in place for reasons of environmental protection. The WTO ruling says those aren’t valid reasons for limiting exports.

The WTO ruling casts doubt on the legality of the current process for approving exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG). By compelling aspiring exporters to run a long and unpredictable bureaucratic and political gauntlet, the existing process informally but effectively constrains gas exports.

More importantly, in light of the WTO ruling, the quantitative restrictions on LNG exports advocated by Dow Chemical, America’s Energy Advantage (AEA), and the American Public Gas Association (APGA) are plainly illegal.

On Tuesday, the House Energy & Commerce Committee heard testimony on trade law and LNG exports from former congressman James Bacchus (D-Fla.), who now chairs the Global Practice at GreenbergTraurig.

The hearing was on H.R. 6, the Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act, introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). H.R. 6 would amend the 1938 Natural Gas Act to provide that applications to export LNG to any WTO-member country be “granted without modification or delay.”

Witnesses debated whether H.R. 6 would help or harm U.S. manufacturers and consumers, and whether the legislation would undermine Russia’s monopoly power to coerce Ukraine and other countries dependent on Russia for most or all of their gas.

A future post may examine the back-and-forth on those issues. Here I’m going to excerpt passages from Bacchus’s testimony and offer some brief comments. Bacchus’s remarks are indented in blue.

Largely overlooked so far in the emerging Congressional debate about restricting exports of natural gas is the possibility that such restrictions are inconsistent with the obligations of the United States to other WTO Members under the WTO treaty. If our restrictive energy measures are inconsistent with our treaty obligations, the United States risks losing a case in the WTO. Such a loss could cause the WTO to authorize expensive economic sanctions against us through the loss of previously granted concessions in other sectors of our international trade.

Comment: It’s not surprising proponents of LNG export restrictions ignore the incompatibility of their agenda with global trade rules. They also ignore the incompatibility of their agenda with property rights and the constitutional principle of equality under law. Even though Dow, AEA, and APGA didn’t invest a dime to find and produce the gas, they fancy themselves entitled to determine who gets to buy the gas and at what price. [click to continue…]

Cooler Heads Digest 21 March 2014

Post image for Do Skeptics ‘Reposition’ Warming as ‘Theory’ or Do Alarmists ‘Reposition’ Fear as ‘Fact’? Revisiting an Urban Legend

How many times have you heard climate activists claim skeptics are just latter-day “tobacco scientists?” Google “tobacco scientists” and “global warming,” and you’ll get about 1,110,000 results. With so much (ahem) smoke, surely there must be some fire, right?

Al Gore helped popularize this endlessly repeated allegation. In An Inconvenient Truth (p. 263), he contends that just as tobacco companies cynically funded corrupt scientists to cast doubt on the Surgeon General’s report linking cigarette smoking to cancer, so fossil fuel companies fund “skeptics” to create the appearance of scientific controversy where none exists.

Here’s the pertinent passage:

The misconception that there is serious disagreement among scientists about global warming is actually an illusion that has been deliberately fostered by a relatively small but extremely well-funded cadre of special interests, including Exxon Mobil and a few other oil, coal, and utilities companies. These companies want to prevent any new policies that would interfere with their current business plans that rely on the massive unrestrained dumping of global warming pollution into the Earth’s atmosphere every hour of every day.

One of the internal memos prepared by this group to guide the employees they hired to run their disinformation campaign was discovered by the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Ross Gelbspan. Here was the group’s stated objective: to “reposition global warming as theory, rather than fact.”

This technique has been used before. The tobacco industry, 40 years ago, reacted to the historic Surgeon General’s report linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer and other lung diseases by organizing a similar disinformation campaign. 

One of their memos, prepared in the 1960s, was recently uncovered during one of the lawsuits against the tobacco companies in behalf of the millions of people who have been killed by their product. It is interesting to read it 40 years later in the context of the global warming campaign:

“Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing controversy.” Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company memo, 1960s

There’s just one problem with this tale of corruption and intrigue — much of it is false and all of it is misleading. Let’s examine the flaws in this urban legend, going from minor to major.

[click to continue…]

Post image for Which Sovereign Merits Judicial Deference When State & Federal Governments Conflict under the Clean Air Act’s Cooperative Federalism Arrangement?

What is the proper scope of review when an Article III court adjudicates a federalism dispute under the Clean Air Act? Is a court supposed to review the reasonableness of the state’s determinations? Or is it supposed to review the reasonableness of the EPA’s review of the reasonableness of the state’s determination? Simply put, to which sovereign should courts defer?

In light of the Obama administration’s aggressive oversight of Clean Air Act programs operated by the States, this is a hugely consequential question, with billions of dollars at stake. Yet there exists little statutory direction and conflicting case law to guide lower courts in their review of State-Federal disagreements pursuant to the Clean Air Act. On January 29, the State of Oklahoma petitioned the Supreme Court to revisit this matter, and clarify which sovereign warrants ascendant respect from reviewing courts.

Below, in the first of a two part series, I explore how the cooperative federalism regulatory regime established by the Clean Air Act confuses judicial deference to agency decision-making. Ultimately, I urge the Supreme Court to grant Oklahoma’s cert petition, in order to cut through the uncertainty and establish unequivocally the boundaries of authority between the State and Federal Governments under the Clean Air Act.

In the second part of the series, I will make the case that States, and not the EPA, are the proper recipients of the court’s respect.

Cooperative Federalism Conundrum: Delegation Can Be Split; Deference Can’t

[click to continue…]

Post image for Would Keystone XL Serve the U.S. National Interest?

Would the Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL) serve the U.S. national interest? If the State Department answers that question in the affirmative, TransCanada Corporation can finally begin building the pipeline, more than five and a half years after originally applying for a construction permit.

TransCanada recently submitted comments to State making the case for an affirmative “national interest determination” (NID). The comments are clear, comprehensive, accurate, and, in my opinion, compelling.

Inspired by those comments, I will attempt here to state the common sense of the issue in my own words.

The interminable controversy over the KXL is stunningly pointless. Do modern commerce and transport chiefly run on petroleum-based products? Yes. Are pipelines the most economic, efficient, and safe way to transport large volumes of petroleum? Yes. Is Canada our closest ally and biggest trading partner? Yes. Is Canada already the largest single source of U.S. petroleum imports? Yes. Would building the KXL enhance the efficiency of oil transport from Canada to U.S. markets? Yes. Would building the KXL support tens of thousands of American jobs and add billions to the GDP during the construction period? Yes. Would all the financing be private and not cost taxpayers a dime? Yes.

So how could building the KXL not be in U.S. national interest?

In 2012, TransCanada sought permission to build the “Gulf Coast Project” (the green line in the map below), the southern leg of the 1,700 mile pipeline it originally proposed to build from Hardisty, Canada to Port Arthur, Texas. State environmental agencies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted all necessary permits for the Gulf Coast Project by August 2012.

Keystone XL Pipeline Gulf Coast Route, State Department Final EIS 2014

Construction began in August 2012 and the project commenced commercial service in January 2014. The earth did not shake, the sky didn’t fall, no one felt a “disturbance in the Force . . . as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” [click to continue…]

Post image for EPA: Artless Dodging on ‘Carbon Pollution’ Rule

Yesterday, the House Science Energy and Environment Subcommittees held a joint hearing on the “Science of Capture and Storage: Understanding EPA’s Carbon Rules.” EPA Air Office Acting Administrator Janet McCabe was the sole witness on the second panel. Her testimony begins about one hour and 54 minutes (1:54) into the archived Webcast. Although calm and non-ideological in tone, McCabe’s responses in the lengthy Q&A were terse, usually uninformative, and often evasive.

The hearing focused on carbon capture and storage (CCS), the technology new coal-fired power plants will have to install to meet the carbon dioxide (CO2) New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) in EPA’s proposed “Carbon Pollution Rule.” Under the Clean Air Act, NSPS are to “reflect the degree of emission limitation achievable through the application of the best system of emission reduction which . . . has been adequately demonstrated.”

Environment Subcommittee Chair David Schweikert (R.-Ariz.) kicked off the Q&A (1:59) by noting that the “Carbon Pollution Rule” assumes CCS technology is “robust and ready to go,” yet the “previous panel was pretty crisp, even from right to left, that there are still some real concerns on the technology itself.” He asked for “technical” information clarifying how EPA set the CO2 standards.

McCabe responded by explaining that the “Carbon Pollution Rule” does not actually mandate the use of CCS, it sets a performance standard based on CCS, and let’s covered facilities decide for themselves how to meet the standard. Okay, but that’s a distinction without a difference, since the only known technology that can reduce CO2 emissions from coal plants as much as CCS is CCS.

McCabe continued:

When it comes to the technology that we based those numbers on [i.e. 1,100 lbs. CO2 per MWh for new coal plants], we believe that if you look across all the information and data that’s available, that there is adequate and robust data showing that the various components that we based the standard on are in use, have been in use, and will be ready.

In other words, instead of providing technical information addressing the concerns raised during the previous panel, McCabe said, in effect, ‘Trust us, we’re the experts.’

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), noting GOP Members’ concerns about the cost of CCS, asked McCabe to discuss the “costs associated with the lack of action to address climate change and increasing emissions.” McCabe responded (2:10):

That’s a very good question. There are costs to our economy and to society from the impacts of climate change that is already happening. In 2013, there were seven extreme weather events. Which I think is a nice way of saying great, big, huge horrible storms that cost the economy over a billion dollars each. This is a real economic impact on our communities, our families across the country.

Prompted by Bonamici, McCabe went on to include “health care costs” and “disruption to families and whole communities” among the costs of inaction.

Whether deliberately or otherwise, McCabe blurs the distinction between climate risk and climate change risk. Hurricanes are not some new phenomenon unique to the Age of Global Warming. Huge, horrible storms have billion-dollar costs — that is the nature of the beast. Blaming hurricanes on CO2 emissions is unscientific. There has been no long-term trend in the strength or frequency of hurricanes, none in global accumulated cyclone energy, and none in hurricane damages once losses are adjusted to take into account increases in population, wealth, and the consumer price index. The U.S. is currently experiencing the longest period on record with no major (category 3-5) hurricane landfall strikes.

Blaming hurricane damages on congressional gridlock (“lack of action”) is loopy. Even complete elimination of U.S. CO2 emissions via immediate and total shutdown of the economy would avert only a hypothetical 0.19°C of warming by 2100 — too small a reduction to have any detectable effect on weather patterns. Ergo, no lesser emission reductions that might have been implemented during the past decade or two could provide any meaningful protection to people or property even if one assumes all seven billion-dollar storms in 2013 were ginned up by climate change. [click to continue…]